March 31, 2011

Thoughts on Thirteen-Point-One

Random thoughts from an hour and a half of running....

5:00am: Alarm. Coffee. ‘Submarine’ shower. Then force myself to eat a bagel with peanut butter and Nutella, really sick of carbs by this time. Also trying to down some water at least an hour before the race to ward off hyponatremia (it's a big word, Google it).

5:50am: My support crew, Jennie and Ritter, in the car, the heater turned way up, and the wheels are rolling to RFK Stadium.

6:25am: Hit RFK Lot 8 exit, traffic is backed up for miles on the freeway; this is where my stress hits. 35 minutes to the gun, and we’re in bumper-to-bumper traffic. This is also where poor race organization shows; for soccer games at RFK, there are two lanes of traffic into the parking lot, funneling thousands of fans into the lot with relative ease. The race organizer had just a single lane in, choking off the lot’s entrance and leaving thousands of runners stressing in their cars.

6:45am: Finally enter Lot 8 and cars are already parking illegally, in aisles, on grass, just complete chaos. I pull in the grass at the very end of the lot and make a break for the closest portojohn (darn you morning hydration!)…the line is crazy and loudspeaker announces the second call to the starting line. Thankfully, I have years of tailgating experience at this stadium and know all the overgrown spots on the Anacostia River bank; winning.

6:50am: I run the half-mile to the starting line. More poor organization at the start; bathroom lines create bottlenecks of lines and the corral system funnels me into a tight channel, there’s no way I’m getting to corral #2 through 15,000 runners. No worries, I hop the spectator railing, make my way up the side, and hop another Jersey barrier into my orange-tagged corral.

6:55am: Stretch out, toss my extra shirt on the charity stack, starting to feel like the race organizer slept in. There are no pacers with flags for the half marathon in the corrals around me, one full marathon pace flag was hand-written and unreadable, and I see the pace flags for 3:10, 3:15, and 3:20 standing together in corral 3. I have my cheapo watch, guess I can keep on pace based on mile markers.

7:00am: The mayor speaks, and gets booed heartily. Not the reception he was hoping for this morning.

7:10am: 15,000 runners surge slowly towards the line. Get a few jumps in the legs, feel the timing mat under my feet, and give a thumbs-up to the overhead WUSA9 television camera. Let’s do this.

MILE 0: Trying not to get caught up in the speed, trying to maintain pace. Swiveling my head left and right to find gaps to shoot through and avoid traffic. See my support crew and give a wave to the wife…Ritter looks confused.

MILE 0.5: Quickly realize DC doesn’t have the nicest streets to run on. Chunks of blacktop and potholes are a common threat, and more surprising are the speed humps. Unmarked on the pavement, I consistently find myself being jolted forward by my leading foot striking a speed hump. For foot traffic, they definitely accomplish their designed intention.

MILE 1: See a race clock with ’00:08:40’ displayed, but I don’t see a mile marker. Does this mean mile 1 is complete? My watch is 30 seconds behind that, reasonable for my corral delay, but did I really just run an 8:10 mile? I wanted negative splits, but it felt faster than that.

Hit the first hydration station and it looks like a bloody scene from a horror movie…the first volunteers are holding red Powerade, and cups of red dye #40 are flying through the air, splattering red stains on white running shoes, socks, volunteers. I fly through the middle lane to the water, grab the last cup, say ‘thank you’ to the lady holding it (good race karma!)  There’s only an inch of water in the bottom; well, I don’t need it yet, but hope there’s more later.

MILE 2.5: Run near the Capitol, heading down Constitution Avenue just a short block parallel to the National Mall.  Though the race’s tagline was “Running Through History,” it really should’ve been “Running Near History” since the course was always just a short block or a building away from the key monuments and the best views.

MILE 3 (maybe?): Okay, now the watch says ‘0:22:14’ and I haven’t seen a mile marker. Even if the clock I saw was mile 1, I know I’m well past mile 2.

MILE 3.5 (hopefully): This is where some panic sets in regarding my pace time. I know I’m deep into mile 3 and haven’t seen a mile marker yet. I don’t have a Garmin and have no idea how I’m doing on my pace; I feel like I’m on pace, but that’s easily skewed by race-day excitement or runner traffic. This was a bad moment and a bad half-mile mentally. A feeling of frustration sinks in.

MILE 4: See a yellow pacer shirt up ahead of me, a welcome beacon, his ‘3:15’ full marathon flag above him. As my half marathon goal of 1:40 is half of a 3:20 full marathon, as long as I stuck near this guy, I’ll be okay. I surge ahead and overtake the pace group, just need to keep them on my heels and I’ll be a couple minutes ahead of schedule at the finish line.

MILE 4.5: Is that a barefoot runner? No, not a five-finger shoes runner…a legit barefoot runner. 30-degree weather, and this guy’s running along on a DC side street with no socks, no shoes, nada. And he’s passing me.

MILE 5: Still no mile markers, but I just hit the mile 5 water stop (I think it’s a half-mile early). Planned for a few Shot Blocks at mile 5 and 9, but the water stop is on me too fast and I don’t have time to chew and wash down three square inches of gummi energy. Guess I’ll refuel carbs at miles 7 and 11.

MILE 5.5: Hit Dupont Circle and the first “motivation station” set-up by the race. Spectators at these stations receive food, drinks, noise-makers, and music. Must’ve been too early in the race, or everyone wasn’t awake yet…kids holding signs, but I don’t get any music or motivation.

MILE 6: Look at the split times written on my arm. Yeah, these are kinda worthless without mile markers.

MILE 6.5: After a couple miles alternating between being overheated and chilled by the wind, I launch the freebie cotton gloves to the side of the road. “Heads!”  My gift to Columbia Heights. Pumping through the final push of a major uphill section from miles 4 through 7.

I never thought about why they called it Capitol Hill and Columbia Heights
until I was running up inclines from mile 4 through 7.

MILE 7: Still no mile markers, but hear a Metro Police officer saying “almost at the top, water ahead,” and sensing an opportunity, pop in three Shot Bloks and hit the hydration station with a mouth full. Get out a “thanks!” as I grab an overflowing cup of H2O. Volunteer yells an encouraging word and I’m trying to drink while running what I later find out is a 7:16 pace. Quickly realizing the cup and my mouth aren’t working together, so I half-jog and half-walk to drink the entire cup, watching the ‘3:15’ flag pass by. Toss the cup and crank up the speed to get back in front of the pace group.

MILE 7.5: Starting a gradual downhill and really moving through Adams Morgan. The motivation station DJ is blasting Black Eyed Peas…”I gotta feeling, that tonight's gonna be a good night…”  I got a feeling it’d be a better night if someone put up a few mile markers. Run past the AMo pizza joints. Anybody up for a big slice?

MILE 8.0: Make the turn by Howard University. Some students woke up early to cheer on the runners. One parked an SUV by the course, tailgate open and house music pumping.

MILE 8.5: Really in the groove and hitting my stride. Feels great to look back and notice I’m putting a little distance on the pace group. I’m ahead of schedule and kicking.

MILE 9.0: As I hit the turn for North Capitol Street, I finally know where I am. Turning back towards RFK, I know this is the end of mile 9. A quick look at the mile splits written on my arm tell me I’m well ahead of the 7:45 pace plan, I’m closer to 7:15 and feeling good.

MILE 9.5: Did I really just see a Metro Police officer high-five a group of runners? Wow, surprising support from the MPD, goes right along with all the great volunteers this morning (the saving grace of the race).

MILE 10: The epic mile. Mile markers have returned!! Run past a mile marker proudly announcing ‘10’ and the watch reads ‘1:12:25’…about three minutes faster than my 2010 Army 10 Miler PR. In the groove.

MILE 10.5: A full marathoner runs by the ‘3:15’ pace group and yells at the flag runner. He’s apparently running two minutes fast. I quickly realize I’m now even further under my goal time. Just gotta keep ahead of this pace group.

MILE 11: The motivation station is set-up on a curve, and I’m flying along the edge. Crowds have grown along with the volume, running through a tunnel of noise. At the end of the crowds, refueling attempt #2 fails spectacularly. Trying to get a few Shot Bloks in my mouth with a cup of water again a tough task. Walk a few strides to hydrate and refuel…it’s not working, so I spit half out and quickly hop back on the pace. (Note to self: next 10+ miler I’m carrying my own water; at my pace, it’s easier to drink from a sports bottle than a Solo cup)

MILE 11.5: A hard stretch mentally and physically, crushing my pace time may be coming back to bite me. Peek at the camo ‘Army Strong’ band on my left wrist. I have to dominate this mile.

MILE 12: Spot my support crew (obvious blonde hair and red jacket), give a yell and a wave. I see mile marker 12 being carried down the street, presumably to get in position for the wave of 14,000 people behind me. Come on race organizers, step up your game.

Passing Mile 12. Enlarge the picture to see (1) me, (2) a guy with a bad calf tattoo
that I ran behind in a 10k in February (small world), and (3) my hero; though he's hidden by
the runner in blue, you can make out the small, sideways red '3:15' flag I followed to the finish.

MILE 12.5: Recognize the streets around RFK. Getting close to the finish line. Still sticking with the 3:15 pace group, but lost my slight lead on them. Finish strong!

MILE 13: Stadium parking lot is ahead, volunteers are yelling “marathon left, half marathon right,” and it suddenly enters my mind that I’m really happy to go right. Can’t imagine the pace group I’m running with has another 13.1 miles to go.

MILE 13.1: Turn the corner to the finish line and hit my finishing kick. Fly across the mat in 1:35:07 (chip/tag time), crushing my target of 1:40:00. In the groove on this day. My final 7:16 per mile pace is better than my 10 Miler pace and just seconds slower than my 10k pace.

The finish line area was poorly designed, bottlenecking together with no run-out, in my post-timing-mat strides I ran straight past the heat shields and medals (about 20 feet after the line) and ran right through the food tent. After five or so minutes of cool-down jogging, went back to collect my heat shield (space blanket), finisher medal, and food.

Waiting for my support crew at the finish line festival, and at this point I realize how cold I am now that I stopped running. The heat shield isn’t doing much. When my dedicated wife showed up, I immediately tried to hug the dog for warmth. Followed quickly by taking my gloves and running jacket from Jennie’s backpack and bundling up.

Portable heater and support crew member.

Finishing Thought... It was a fantastic run and I felt great once I found a pace group and hit my stride. I owe a lot of credit to the US Naval Academy marathon club member who held the ‘3:15’ flag that brought me out of the 3-mile funk and guided me to a seriously fast haul. After crushing my goal time, and eclipsing my per-mile 10 miler pace, I have new targets in sight for the upcoming GW Parkway Classic 10 Miler on April 10 and definitely have plans to add another couple half marathons to 2011.

CareFirst National Half Marathon
Finishing Time: 1:35:07